NEW BRITAIN - The CCSU softball team announced a big splash on the recruitment front on Thursday afternoon.
With the entire Blue Devils team and coaching staff looking on, 8-year-old Abigail Zittoun signed a National Letter of Intent to join the CCSU softball family after fighting a rare form of cancer - esthesioneuroblastoma, which developed a tumor in her nasal cavity - since the fall of 2017.
“I’m so excited,” Zittoun said while seated next to her parents Gwen and Dan Zittoun, and CCSU head coach Bre Gleason. “I’m looking forward to having a lot of fun and playing softball.”
Abigail’s journey to CCSU was helped by Team IMPACT, a non-profit based in Massachusetts that matches sick children with college athletic teams to promote social interaction and a support system from student-athletes and their collegiate programs. The Zittouns reached out to Team IMPACT and by June, Abigail was meeting members of her future team.
“It’s incredible,” Gwen said. “We have a great support system, but this is a whole different layer of people who didn’t know us but want to support her and cheer her on. It’s amazing.”
Abigail’s entire new support system was on hand at CCSU on Thursday, applauding after Abigail signed her name on the NLI and taking selfies with the team.
“I felt so excited,” Abigail said. “I was like ‘How is the happening?’ It makes me feel really excited to be here.”
Abigail also took time to field questions from her new teammates in a press conference format, telling the Blue Devils her favorite animal (dog), favorite food (ice cream), favorite season (fall), and her favorite sports team, which she wisely answered ‘Blue Devils’ while sporting a CCSU jersey and cap.
“They’re awesome,” Gwen said of the softball team. “We met a couple players over the summer before they all came back and it was a great, slow introduction. The team, the coaches, they’re all just amazing. She’s developed really awesome relationships with a bunch of the players already.”
Many of the CCSU players took time to get to know Abigail before she officially became a Blue Devil, making her arrival on Thursday an even smoother transition.
“She’s met a bunch of the girls already and she loves it,” Gwen said. “The players are in contact with her all the time. She’s always getting notes from them and words of encouragement. She talks about it all the time, to everyone we see.”
Abigail continued to develop relationships with the Blue Devils after her introductory press conference, learning dance moves from the team and talking with each player about the upcoming season. Abigail, now cancer-free after undergoing chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumor, will be finished with her treatment in December of this year, just in time to be ready for softball season, where a seat of her choice will be ready at the CCSU softball field.
Gleason and the Blue Devils are excited to have Abigail, a skillful outfielder, on the Blue Devils roster this season.
“The fact that we get to have her be a part of our team as much as possible is amazing for us,” Gleason said.
Of course, Abigail’s inspiring story is only part of her recruitment to CCSU. She also can swing a hot bat.
“She came to our camp in July and I threw her some front toss and she ripped a few right up the middle,” Gleason said. “So we knew she was ready to be a Blue Devil.”
Aside from showing her teammates how to barrel up a softball, Abigail’s journey to CCSU has given her new team a fresh perspective on the sport, and life itself, which contributed to the excitement in the press room when she officially signed on to join the team.
“In reality, she’s helped us more than we’ve helped her. She’s brought so much joy to our lives,” Gleason said. “When she shows up to the field and is in such a good mood and is having a good time, I think it reminds them that there is more to life than just softball. Having a bad practice or losing a game isn’t the worst thing. She shows up with a smile so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com